06 April 2016

Caucus Nomination System Strong In Colorado (Updated and Corrected April 12, 2016)


In Colorado, there are two ways that a candidate for a major political party (i.e. Democrat or Republican) can get on the primary ballot to be the party's nominee for a particular political office. You can be nominated through the caucus process, or you can file a petition to be placed on the primary ballot.

Party insiders who advance to county and subsequent conventions following a closed precinct caucus selection of the nominees to be placed on the primary ballot in the other 94% of the primary races and an even smaller percentage of all candidates utilized this route.

A candidate needs 30% support in the caucus process to get on the primary ballot, so no more than 3 candidates can make it onto the ballot that way.  Unsurprisingly, petitions come mostly in races with crowded fields of candidates where there is no incumbent running and the person who win the party nomination has a reasonable chance of being elected in the general election.

This can produce surprises.  Incumbent Republican Congressman Lamborn came very close to not making it onto the primary ballot this year with just 35% support in the caucus process in a race against one of his former aides.  He was just 18 Congressional District Assembly votes away from losing the race (which would have dispensed with a primary and since there is not Democratic candidate for the safe Republican CO-5 seat, would have immediately made the caucus winner the Congresswoman elect in the district).

The first candidate in the race for the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race, an African American Air Force veteran, won more than 70% of the caucus process vote on the strength of a good stump speech, removing the widely assumed front runner in the race (a sitting state senator) from the primary ballot, along with two other contenders seeking a place on the ballot through the caucus process.

On the whole, this is a good thing.  The caucus process insures that candidates nominated reflect the political views of the rank and file of the party that they claim to represent, and caucus participants typically hear speeches from each candidate before voting, so their decisions are often better informed than those of primary voters, especially in down ticket races that get less media attention. Caucus participants also tend to be more familiar with the political players in a particular electoral district and so will often know or know someone who knows many of the candidates in advance of hearing the speeches.  

The process of campaigning for a seat through the caucus process, while arcane, is also much less expensive than a campaign directed at the general public.  Primary voters weigh in only in a few hotly contested races that get more media attention and have substantial active factions of the party supporting each candidate.  The cost of running someone for an office where there is an uphill battle in the general election is also lower, reducing the number of uncontested races.  The caucus process also reduces expenditures for the Secretary of State's office, which need only consider petitions of candidates who opt out of that process.

The petition process often draws only candidates who are less popular with the party rank and file, and I suspect that petition candidates do less well on average, in primary elections, than caucus candidates, although I haven't run the numbers.

This Year's Races

Federal Offices

This year, there are nine federal offices that come before the voters (President-Vice President, U.S. Senate, and seven House of Representatives seats).  

All of the candidates except four of the dozens plus Republicans seeking the party's nomination for U.S. Senate to challenge incumbent Senator Bennett filed petitions to get on the primary ballot (there is no Presidential primary in Colorado).

Thus, of the 16 possible nomination races in which a petition option was available, just one actually had candidates petition onto the primary ballot (about 6%).

Colorado General Assembly

In the Colorado General Assembly this year, there are 65 seats in the state house, and 18 seats in the state senate up for election. Thus, there are potentially 166 state legislative primary races in which petitions could be filed, but petitions were actually filed in just 8 of them (about 5%).

Two Democrats and one Republican filed petitions in state senate races (each in a different district). Five Democrats filed petitions in four state house races and four Republicans filed petitions in four state house races.

Miscellaneous State Offices

There are 22 district attorney offices, and 3 on CU-Regents seats and 3 state school board seats at issue this year.

There are also eight non-partisan retention elections for Colorado Court of Appeals judges and many non-partisan retention elections for Colorado District Court and County Court judges. There are also eight RTD board seats up for election in 2016, but those races are non-partisan. Also notably, Castle Rock will be having a non-partisan recall election of three members of its City Council including its Mayor, over annexation and growth issues.

Two Democrats filed petitions in the District 1 CU-Regent Race (greater Denver), one Democrat filed a Petition in the District 2 (Denver) District Attorney race, and one Republican filed a Petition in the District 17 District Attorney race (Adams and Broomfield counties in suburban north Denver).

Thus, of about 56 possible miscellaneous races, petitions were filed in 3 of them (about 1.4%).  

Summary of All Partisan 2016 Races

In all, of about 238 races were petitioners to be placed on the primary ballot were available, petitions were filed in just 12 of them (about 5%) by 17 candidates (at least one of which has been rejected as having insufficient signatures).  Only 3 races (about 1.4%) had more than one candidate seek primary ballot access by petition. Each of these races also have candidates getting onto the ballot via the caucus process.

The final list of primary election candidates will appear at the Colorado Secretary of State's website and will be finalized by May 2, 2016.

1 comment:

andrew said...

Neither Democratic CU Regent candidate ended up getting on the ballot that way. Three Democratic party petitions to get on the ballot for the state house failed and one was withdrawn. One GOP U.S. Senator candidate has failed. Two more await a decision as I write.

Two DA candidates (both Democrats), four Republicans and one Democrat running for state house, and two Republicans and one Democrat running for state senate have successfully petitioned onto the ballot so far. So far, no more than one candidate has petitioned onto any primary ballot for a given office, but two U.S. Senate petitions await review.